thanksgiving sermon…

In hospital, Anna was not too far from the end of her life.  Her husband of 50 plus years was too frail to come and visit her. Maybe thirty years, before they lost their only son in an unspeakable tragedy: a drug fueled robbery. Anna and Bill lived with a beauty, grace, courage and generosity that inspired me and other church members.  To be in their presence was to be in the presence of saints who knew God.

Once as she lay dying, we chatted about the apple tree in her yard. And the good tangy apples that made for wonderful pies, in a few days a neighbor carried a bag of her apples to my office.   On another visit they brought Anna her food tray.  She asked me, “Pastor would you uncover my tray for me?”  I must have worn a puzzled look for she clarified,  “Paul please just lift the lid off that food tray for me…”   So I did and she giggled and said “I find it taste better if I don’t have to smell all the smells of 1,000 meals that have lived under that plastic lid.  You know it’s pretty good when it leaves the kitchen, Bill and I eat in the cafeteria once in a while and it is pretty good. But they have to put that plastic lid over the plate and roll if over the hospital. I think the aroma of Tuesday’s Brussels sprouts comingle with yesterday’s sausage pattie and today’ pears, so  I try to get someone else to take the lid off of it for me…Well, I might be a crazy but  I have been in the hospital a lotMaybe my skeptical smile caught her eye. “Stick your nose in that plastic lid and take a big whiff”   She insisted.  The maroon lid held a lot of food aromas.  It was not the best smell..  “If someone takes the lid off for me , all that pent up smell waifs off over there and  diner is pretty good.   She asked me to bless the meal and offered me a slice of pie. I begged off saying, I did not want to take the best part of her meal.  She persisted and we broke bread together. She was so happy to share a meal.

Just before I left Anna asked me to readjust her blanket. I tucked an extra green hospital embossed blanket up around her shoulders and she said “oh this is such a nice warm blanket thank you Jesus”   We prayed and I headed home for super

As I rode the elevator back down to the lobby, I thought about our visit and her words

  • Oh this is a warm blanket; thank you Jesus.. gratitude for a hospital blanket
  • Her smile at giving away the best part of her meal and sharing a meal.
  • Her genuine Thanksgiving for a hospital meal
  • Her strategy to enjoy that meal

At the risk of sounding trite I believe there are:

1) There are perhaps only two responses to life distraction and thanksgiving


Distraction: that yearning to be entertained, to pull our minds away from life. To escape, get away, think about something else.   Pick up a game controller, read, go somewhere, have a night out, download an app, avoid even a few moments of boredom.

Perhaps we’ve overfilled our world with entertainment and stuff.

Jesus tells us to be careful about living a distracted  Life.

Matthew 6: 25-  ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,* or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God* and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Distraction comes at us in 2 ways

a)      Distraction comes to us in seeking to be entertained.

We are living in an age of unprecedented entertainment.  The luxury of modern living allows us more free time than people have ever enjoyed. And yet we may be less happy!  We have good roads, cars, bikes, ATV, riding mowers, leaf blowers, and airplanes.  We have amazing technology that lets us watch shows filmed from the bottom on the ocean and ipads were we can watch pictures fresh from outer space, we can watch an eagle’s nest on a webcam.  We have headphones that let us hear the best orchestra’s bands or ensembles in the world right on our phones.   TV means we can see the game better at home, a wire flies a camera over the field so we can see camera angles unimagined 20 years ago.     We have select teams, semi-professional coaches, strength trainers for younger and younger athletes and musiciansGames, arts, education have become more competition than intrinsically valuable activities.  We have video games that look real, and I have argued with my youngest son, about why I do not want to watch him play game on TV. Caleb argues there are no commercials and the outcome is as much in doubt as a “real” game.

We see and do an awful lot…  I am not calling any particular thing bad, but often we live somewhere else, we work for something else.  We preachers and pundits at times rail against the ever more intrusive and amazing technology, our railing is a little silly.  Let us not blame the tools, it is us, not the x-box or ipad  it’s us… not our nifty tools

We are entertained so much our souls never breath.

This distraction comes at us in a second and secondary way.

b)      At times our seeking to accumulate stuff robs us of life (time) and thereby distracts  us from the spiritual life Christ intends for us.

Let’s confess (our sinful ideology) that we think our stuff will make for a meaningful life.  We think an accumulation of goods will settle our souls.   As nice as things can be, the cost of goods in time, energy and talent needed to acquire and maintain stuff pulls us away from the very lives we want to enjoy.

Jesus proclaims that our common ideology/idolatry  “that stuff makes us happy”  is a lie.  In the parable of the sower, Jesus says  that the spiritual life gets “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life” .  In Matthew 19 Jesus warns: “it is very difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven”   In Matthew 6:24 “you cannot serve god and wealth”

Yet, we live like that…

  • We pursue happiness.

c)       Jesus tells us to pursue righteousness not happiness

 Our Declaration of Independence speaks of certain unalienable  human rights: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  The Bible surely affirms all of these human rights as basic and good, and preaches that we defend life and libertybut the pursuit of happiness is not the goal for Christ-like living.   Now surely we should all be allowed to pursue happiness, and none forced into another’s definition of it.   If the pursuit of happiness is our highest goal: is that not hedonism?  

Jesus does not say seek happiness. That is so allusive, and those consumed with happiness as a goal seem often most unhappy. No Matthew 6:33 says do not run after clothes and such… but seek instead the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and happiness, peace, courage, goodness, joy, contentment indeed will arrive with it.  Seeking happiness indeed may fail you.

Our crazed desire  to be constantly entertained perhaps has made us a nation who consumes life but does not live life… we are always looking for something else.

Well that is enough of the critique of the distracted life, I hope you will really ponder this idea: that our craven seeking happiness may be spiritually killing us.  I realize this is cultural apostasy right now.  I believe our craven seeking distraction is a deep affliction:  an ungrounded-ness that is eroding the spiritual life … shallow sandy spiritual soul-dampening soil…

but there is another way to live

2)  The second response to life is the Thankful life.

It is essential that we say thanks be to God or  thank you Jesus to pause to step away from all the distractions.

To have a mindfulness of life, to nurture the still small voice that changes everything.  To slow down enough to see the goodness of God unfolding around us.

Thanksgiving is a slowing down to render an internal accounting of the blessings, beauty, gifts, and God’s goodness in any circumstance. Thanksgiving occurs in the exact moment we lift our head and look to heaven in praise and thanks to God. Thanksgiving sews gratitude into our living.  Thankfulness occurs in the present tense. 

Thanksgiving connects our souls to God and often produces happiness or better yet joy.

a)      The whole of the OT worship is focused on _Thanksgiving_.

Consider  1 Chronicles 16

King David appointed certain Levites as tabernacle ministers before the Lord, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel … with harps and lyres…to sound the cymbals, to blow trumpets regularly, before the altar of God.  On the day of the tabernacle dedication King David appointed the singing of praises to the Lord by Asaph and his band…  .

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known God’s deeds among the peoples.  Sing to the Lord, sing praises to God,
tell of all God’s wonderful works. Glory in the Holy Name;
let the hearts of all seeking the Lord rejoice.  Seek the Lord. Seek God’s strength. Seek God’s presence continually. Remember the wonderful works, miracles, and the judgments God uttered,
The Almighty is the Lord our God- judging all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Tell of God’s salvation. Declare God’s glory among all people.  Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength; bring an offering before the Lord. Worship the Lord in holy splendor;  Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,  Let the sea roar, let the field exult
Let the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, who comes to judge the earth.
34 O give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good;
God’s steadfast love endures for ever. 

Blessed be the Lord, our God, from everlasting to everlasting.’
Then all the people said ‘Amen!’ and praised the Lord.

David established Asaph and the worship band to minister in the Tabernacle each day….the priest Zadok (was) to offer burnt-offerings… and the rest of those chosen and expressly named to render thanks to the Lord on trumpets and cymbals for the music, and instruments for sacred song. Until I was reading this, it never struck me… I usually think of OT worship as centered in burnt offerings, but the tabernacle focused on thanksgiving and praise


b)      The very word Thanksgiving _ can mean “to give thanks__” , “to confess” or  “to bear witness to others”  

Indeed, the word Thanksgiving in Hebrew it is rooted like this todhah which means “to give thanks” or “to confess”. Hebrew experts say “it may mean to bear witness to others” to say thank you…

On the most basic level to say “thanks be to God” is to confess our faith.

Thanksgiving acknowledges the unseen hand of God.

Thankfulness is a necessary Christian value

c)       _Thanksgiving_  is not dependent on outside feelings or experiences.  Matthew 26:27  “

While doing a electronic Bible word search on the word “thanks” I was almost stunned to be linked to the following passage: Matthew 26  “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ 27Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; 28for this is my blood of the* covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’”

Facing the cross, soon to pray in the garden Lord if it is possible take this cup away from Me Jesus took the cup and gave thanks.  Thanks must be something deeper than happiness. Jesus is not giving thanks so much for the feelings, for in a few minutes he will pour out his heart asking for the cup to be removed.

We don’t know exactly why Jesus gave thanks. Was it…

  • force of a good habit
  • for the beauty of this life as he faced leaving it
  • for the frailty of humanity
  • for the sinful friends like Peter, James, John ,Thomas, Joanna, Susanna, Magdalene, or Mary
  • for those who will try to stay awake with you all night…
  • or for those who will stand by him at the cross
  • for the gift of sharing the meal
  • for the goodness of good bread and a nice glass of wine
  • for the promise of God to bring about resurrection and new life
  • for the love of God
  • for the hymn they will sing before departing to the garden
  • For courage, wisdom and the strength to do God’s work?

Sometimes we think that if we don’t have certain things, if we don’t have certain stuff in our life, if we don’t have the right stuffing, the right turkey, the right table ornaments, or  the right people at the table with us : we cannot say thanks be to God.

  • Why is that?
  • Is it because we are people who need to be distracted?
  • Are we a people who need to be a entertained ?
  • Are we people who think that by our consumption we will experience wholeness and peace and love and fulfillment?…

Brothers and sisters I want to suggest to you that the spiritual command… “be Thankful” may be a necessary prerequisite to happiness.

 So I invite you to be mindful: to be mindful of what is beautiful and good and lovely and true. Take joy of in Facetime, Skpye or phones that let us call another who is not at the table.  May we remember those who once shared meals with us.  May we say thanks be to God for a table and food and the ability to go to the store.  May we  lift the lid off the food tray and give thanks.   May we say  “Thanks be to God” for humor and beauty of a movie that makes us laugh.  May we resound “thanks be to God” for memories that are lovely and good we have logged and shared.

May we practice thanksgiving, for in giving thanks we may see the unseen hand of God, and that may make all the difference.

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